Donal Óg Cusack is officially back in the Cork GAA fold after County Board chiefs tonight recommended him as the new manager of the county’s minor hurlers.
Cusack is a late, left-field nomination after discussions with favourite for the position, Cork legend Jimmy Barry-Murphy, ran into difficulties over the past couple of days.
Management of the Rebels’ senior team for 2020 reverts to Kieran Kingston for a new three-year term. He previously stepped down after two seasons in 2017. He replaces John Meyler and brings with him Ger Cunningham as coach and Diarmuid O’Sullivan, who returns as a selector with Kingston.
Newtownshandrum’s Pat Mulcahy has been mentioned as a possible addition to Cork’s senior management team, but that is not confirmed in the statement issued by Cork GAA tonight.
Sarsfields’ Pat Ryan, a senior coach during Kingston’s term in charge, takes over from Denis Ring as the new Cork Under 20 coach. He has a strong relationship with Kingston, which will be key in creating a clear pathway between U20 and senior.
Commented Cork GAA chair Tracey Kennedy: “I am absolutely delighted with the outcome of the appointments process, and honoured to be putting these names before County Board on Tuesday night.
As I indicated at the outset, we did not want to rush into any decisions, and the length of the process is indicative both of the extent of our consultation and the number of excellent people who were willing to talk to us about Cork hurling.
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of those who have agreed to serve as managers, coaches and selectors, and I truly believe that we now have a structure in place which will ensure that we can always secure the best people to lead Cork teams, on a clear pathway for both coaches and players from underage all the way through to Senior.”
Undoubtedly it is the controversial appointment of Cusack that will stir debate in Cork GAA circles - and undoubtedly divide opinion among those who were embittered by the Cork player strikes of 2002 and 2007-08
The Cusack proposal won’t sit well with some in the Rebel county, but the new executive at County Board level will use this appointment to emphasise that everyone has moved on from those divisive periods in Cork GAA history.
“The war is officially over,” one well-placed source commented upon learning of the proposal last night.
Cusack will bring with him as part of a new-look minor management team his All-Ireland winning colleagues Tom Kenny and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín.
Once asked about the bitter and acrimonious 2002 strike, Cusack said: “Somebody had to put their head above the parapet. I was the guy doing the talking, but I was only representing very much the views of the vast majority of players. The county board, the organisation that should be putting in place every facility to help these players excel at their game, were not doing their duty.
We were taking on an institution, but we also knew that if we stuck together that we wouldn’t be beaten and that’s how it turned out.
Cusack, who was part of Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare coaching ticket in 2016, declared his interest in a Cork management role as recently as August, telling an RTÉ podcast: “Of course I’d be interested. I played for Cork since I was Under-14 and at every level since.”
Cork GAA bosses pledged in advance they would use the opportunity of vacancies at senior, Under 20 and minor level to put a solid foundation for the future in place.
Said a statement: “The goal was to put in place a structure that would ensure the best possible management teams for each grade of Cork hurling, both now and into the future, and also to provide a pathway for the development of younger coaches and those with less inter-county experience.
“Following extensive consultation over several weeks, the Executive of Cork County Board is pleased to recommend the appointment of Kieran Kingston (Tracton) as manager of the Cork senior hurling team for a three-year term, along with coach Ger Cunningham (St. Finbarr’s) and Diarmuid O’Sullivan (Cloyne). A full backroom team will be announced at a later date.
“Pat Ryan (Sarsfields) will take the helm at U20, joined by Donal O’Mahony (Bishopstown), Brendan Coleman (Youghal), Fergal Condon (Aghada) and Wayne Sherlock (Blackrock).
“Donal Óg Cusack (Cloyne) has been recommended as Minor (U17) manager on a one-year basis for 2020, joined by Seán Óg Ó hAilpín (Na Piarsaigh), Tom Kenny (Grenagh), and further selectors to be appointed, one of whom will provide a link to the current under-age playing base.
“With the pathway for the progress of younger coaches a major priority, the executive also recommends the appointment of current U15 manager Noel Furlong (Carrigtwohill) as U16 manager for a two-year term, with Seanie McGrath (Bantry Blues), Niall McCarthy (Carrigtwohill), Ger O’Regan (St. Finbarr’s) and David Dorgan (Fr. O’Neill’s) as selectors.”
That the appointment of a minor manager can almost overshadow the announcement of a Cork senior manager is only partly due to the fact that Kingston’s re-appointment was well advertised in advance.
Cusack’s name had not been on the radar in relation to a return to the Cork set-up, and all the indications before the weekend were that the executive would iron out the remaining creases to clear the way for Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s return to the inter-county fold.
However, discussions with Kilbrittain’s Jamie Wall on a coaching role proved unfruitful and it is understood a bid to bring Newtownshandrum’s Ben O’Connor in on the JBM ticket for a one-year term was also deemed unacceptably short.
It is envisaged that Carrigtwohill’s Noel Furlong, who will take charge of the Cork U16s, will step up to the Cork minor role.
Cusack has never felt the need, publicly at least, to salve old wounds in Cork, but no-one can question his passion for Cork hurling. In a Laochra Gael special for TG4, he was asked if he regretted the second Cork strike.
“The only regret I have is that we didn’t give them half enough of it, that when we had our foot on their chests that we should have went all the way. We stood up, we fought, and we stuck together and we came out the other side.”
Even though he will only be in charge of the minors for the 2020 season, the campaign will advertise his readiness, or not, for other inter-county opportunities which may present themselves in the future.